“Assault” on a “Peace” Officer in La Mesa

May 28, 2020

Chief Walt Vasquez of the La Mesa Police Department has this to say:

The La Mesa Police Department works with our community to protect life and property while striving to enhance the quality of life of all our residents.

We are curious as to which of these laudable goals is in evidence in this facebook video:

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What we see is one not very peaceful officer shoving around a citizen who, while justifiably angry over his disrespectful and violent treatment by the officer, makes no resistance.  We wonder whose life or property was threatened by this citizen?  Whose quality of life was enhanced by shoving him around?

Then, after all that aggression from the officer, he has the gall to arrest this poor man for “Assault on a Peace Officer.”  Seldom has so much irony been packed into such a little code as “241-C.”

We see four failures here.

Failure to de-escalate:

We must dismiss our need for immediate resolution to all kinds of resistance. — Harry Hammer, Inside the Art of De-Escalation.  Officers must learn to de-escalate situations, and not insist that citizens instantly comply with their every whim.

Anger management:

Hand in hand with de-escalation is that officers must learn to manage their own anger.  Officers should not be shoving people around.  We shudder to think what might have been done had there been no video cameras around.

Failure of Other Officers to Intervene

Several times we see a female officer step in to help restrain the innocent citizen who was the subject of this assault.  NEVER do we see or hear her or any of the other four officers on-scene attempt an intervention with the Officer who is the aggressor.  We are continually told by law enforcement that it is only a few officers who are “bad apples.” The point of a “bad apple” is that it spoils the whole bunch.  When officers intervene when one of their fellows are losing it, they protect both the citizen and that officer.

Of course, some officers are simply too violent and too dangerous to be helped, and must instead be terminated.

Community Relations

What none of our local law enforcement agencies seem to understand is that there is no number of softball games and toy giveaways that can improve their relations with the community when there are interactions like this caught on video.  Yes, we want to meet the chief and we’re glad when they are generous and helpful.  However, all of us in the African-American community know that if we put one single foot one single inch wrong, we may be thrown around, beaten up, have our necks knelt on, and then arrested to add insult to injury.  Assuming, of course, we even live to tell the tale.

When the City of La Mesa gets serious about improving the quality of life for its citizens, and gets serious about protecting its citizens FROM its police officers, the NAACP San Diego Branch stands ready to help.

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch

Westview High, Slavery, and Racism

May 25, 2020

Last week, Westview High students expressed their wish that the Confederate States of America had won the war to preserve slavery, so that they would have personal slaves to do their work.  Here is the text of an exchange on social media:

god i really f – – – – – – wish the south won the civil war. i wish i had a f – – – – – – slave to do my work for me.
same.

We know about this thanks to Westview senior Nena Lockhart, who has had enough of the racism that persists in our society.  She took to social media to say: “This is not funny and age is not an excuse for this kind of behavior.  We cannot go around believing that racism doesn’t exist or only exists in the Deep South, because it still exists everywhere.”

We cannot agree with Ms Lockhart more, and want her to know that we support her wholeheartedly.

Such comments display an utter indifference to the practice of kidnapping, torture, rape, imprisonment and murder that has been the lot of African-Americans.  That injustice continues today in the form of segregated neighborhoods and schools, racial health and wealth disparities, racially biased policing and racially disparate outcomes of our “justice” system; not to mention the continued presence in our communities of racial hatred, such as the Klan hood and swastikas recently on display in Santee.

These are not problems with one-time solutions..  They require sustained, focused efforts to make our students understand the true nature and horror of racism, recognize its continued danger to human beings and society, and speak and act with compassion.

African-American students have suffered long enough from their uneducated and ill informed peers.  We call on Westview High School and the Poway Unified School District to show the same courage and initiative Ms Lockhart did in bringing this matter into the open.  We call on them to take this matter every bit as seriously as it deserves.  We call on them to do their duty to educate students properly regarding issues of race, and to:

  • Institute an ongoing program of implicit bias training to students, teachers and staff.
  • Teach history according to a curriculum that gives proper weight to both the contributions and the suffering of the African-Americans who laid the foundations of a prosperity they were not allowed to enjoy.

Should they fail in this, we call on the Poway community to make their school board members pay a heavy price in the November elections.  It’s time to truly heal our racial divide, so we can move forward together to address the problems our nation faces.

We stand ready to aid the school and district, if it stands ready to take meaningful action, and root out the ugliness, not just paper it over with soothing words.

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch

Leon Williams Human Relations Commission Proposal

May 18, 2020

We read with interest the proposal from Supervisor Nathan Fletcher to revive the Human Relations Commission, and to name it after the late Civic Leader Leon L. Williams.  Leon Williams was the first African American elected to the San Diego City Council (in 1969) and unfortunately still the only African American ever elected as a County Supervisor (in 1982.) 

Such a commission is needed now more than ever. Mr. Williams once said that everybody wants to do as much as they can for everybody–that won’t occur in this new commission without dedicated staff and resources. 

Beyond the issue of resources, the effectiveness of the commission will be determined by the members appointed to it and how well they represent County residents as a whole.  The lack of inclusion of Asian Pacific Islanders in today’s proposal calls into question whether this commission will truly be representative. 

The NAACP San Diego branch calls on the Supervisors to place this on hold and get true community engagement from the entire County of San Diego.

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch

On the Violent Arrest of the Walker of an Unleashed Dog

May 13, 2020

As President of the San Diego Branch of the NAACP, it is my responsibility to be on the lookout for and respond to racism, discrimination, and violations of human and civil rights.

Which brings me to the case of a young woman walking her dog on a public beach.  It is not illegal to walk a dog on this beach.  It is not illegal to walk an unleashed dog on this beach, except at certain times of day—surely a confusing situation for walkers of dogs.

We have no report that this particular unleashed dog had caused any harm at all, but they were breaking a rule.

The lifeguards are said to have approached the young woman and asked her to leash her dog.  We understand that she declined.  We do not even know if this young woman was in possession of a leash.

The lifeguards could have just let it go.  The lifeguards could have called animal control, since the dog was the issue.  Instead, the lifeguards called the police.  Why?

Did they call the police because, as has been so persuasively explained in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, after the Civil Rights movement there has been a concerted effort by racists to paint African-Americans as criminals, and that has seeped into minds of the lifeguards?  When they see black, do they see crime?

As for the officers of the SDPD, they also had choices available to them.  They could have called animal control.  They could have given the woman a citation and let her go.  They chose to cuff her instead.  When she tried to walk away, they had a further choice.  

They could have let her go.  She had done no harm to anyone.  Her dog had done no harm to anyone.  They could also have chosen to shoot her illegally.

They took a “middle” ground instead, and apprehended her violently, slamming her to the ground three times, knees in her back, and kicking the poor dog that tried to come to her rescue.

Why?  Are they also infected by the idea that black is synonymous with criminal?  Is it so important that they be instantly obeyed in every single circumstance?  Did they perceive in this young woman’s very understandable belief that she was being treated unfairly some existential threat to law and order?  Are they in police work because they are sadists?

We don’t know.

One of the reasons we don’t know is that the San Diego Police Department refuses to have a real conversation about bias and racism in their department.  We give Chief Nisleit credit; he at least can admit that his officers have bias, unlike his predecessor, whose verbal gymnastics around that issue were worthy of Olympic Gold.

Another of the reasons we don’t know is that the SDPD is not transparent about the names of officers involved in controversial incidents, and what their records, positive or negative, are with communities of color.

We understand that officers face life and death decisions, and de-escalation is sometimes not an option.  All the same, there is something seriously wrong when a small young woman in a bathing suit with an unleashed but inoffensive dog is treated like a threat to the safety of officers and the public.  If there ever were a time for de-escalation, this would have been it.

The SDPD says their vision is to “Accept, Adapt, Train and Assess” community policing to build and enhance relationships between the community and the police.  They seem to think this means playing softball and giving out hot dogs.  All the softball in the world isn’t going to make the community trust or respect officers, when those officers target people of color for excessive enforcement and force on a regular basis.

Might this young woman have chosen to cooperate had the reputation of the SDPD not been so poor among communities of color in San Diego?  True community policing results in mutual respect and better outcomes.  Lack of community policing polarizes these relationships, making life more difficult and more dangerous for everyone.

We call for an honest discussion on bias and racism in the San Diego Police Department.  We call for a culture, not of Monday-morning-quarterbacking of every Officer decision, but of an honest attempt to see where things go wrong and improve for the future.  We call for evaluation of officers based on their ability to build relationships with all communities. We call for a culture that holds egregious or habitual offenders accountable.

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch

Swastikas in Santee

May 9, 2020

This has been a busy week for the residents of San Diego.  From police violence and murder to symbols of mass hatred, our region has had many evidences that we are not where we want to be as a society.  Today’s hate incident was a couple sporting not only a swastikas on their masks, but pushing a child in a stroller.

Before we address this particular incident, we pause to recall some of the words of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr:

The inevitable counterrevolution that succeeds every period of progress is taking place. Failing to understand this as a normal process of development, some Negroes are falling into unjustified pessimism and despair. Focusing on the ultimate goal, and discovering it still distant, they declare no progress at all has been made.

With Dr King, we remind you not to despair.  Dr King told us that counterrevolution succeeds every period of progress, and certainly the election of Barack Obama as this country’s first African-American President was certainly a sign that progress has been made.  Knowing this was to be expected doesn’t make it welcome, but it should take out some of the sting.

Their hatred is particularly inflamed because they are being asked to make a sacrifice (the wearing of masks) for the common good (slowing the spread of COVID-19.)  It is intolerable to these people to take any action for the love of their fellow human beings.  While we reject utterly their hatred, we also pity them for their lack of love.

We understand that Food 4 Less employees asked these deplorable persons to remove the swastikas, and they refused.  We understand that Food 4 Less employees offered these deplorable persons replacement masks to wear, and they refused.  We thank these employees for trying to right a wrong while also keeping the peace.

We may not be able to stop people from advertising their hatred, even during this time of public crisis and stay-at-home orders.  What we must do is put our shoulders to the wheel and our boots to the ground to defeat such hatred and work for fairness and work for love.If you, with us, deplore the Confederate flag, the Klan hood, the swastika, the dead detainee or the brutalized beachgoer, it’s time to get off the sidelines.  We’ve been fighting this fight for 101 years, and we can use your help.  Please visit join.sandiegonaacp.org and become a member.  We are an inclusive organization; all people of good will welcomed.

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch

Resignation of Deputy is Not Enough

May 8, 2020

On Monday, we noted with sorrow the shooting of a detainee by Sheriff’s Deputies who were arriving at work as the detainee had escaped during a transfer from Park Police to the jail.  At the time, we expressed our doubts as to the need for the shooting, and said we would be watching closely.  Further details bear out our suspicions.

According to press accounts, the victim, Nicholas Bils, suffered from mental illness.  Evidently, the deputies’ bodycams were not turned on, which seems convenient for the Sheriff. The “deadly weapon” he was arrested over was a golf club, which was not in his possession while he was fleeing from custody.  He was not an immediate danger to human life, and lethal force should not have been used.

According to press accounts, the deputy who shot him was 23 years old and had been a deputy for all of 18 months.  He has since resigned from the Sheriff’s department.

We understand that three shots lodged in Mr Bils’ body, but the fourth only grazed him.  We wonder where that fourth bullet would have ended up had COVID-19 not meant the streets were deserted?  What bystander might now be dead or dying due to this unnecessary and ill-advised shooting?

The deputy’s resignation does not end the matter.

We DEMAND that the San Diego Police Department conduct a thorough and unbiased investigation into this shooting.

We DEMAND that District Attorney Summer Stephan conduct a thorough review to see if criminal charges should be filed against the murderer of Mr Bils.

We DEMAND that Attorney General Becerra open an immediate investigation into Sheriff Gore’s department and practices.  This investigation should not be limited to this particular shooting; this shooting is only one of a long list of in-custody deaths.  Specifically, we ask AG Becearra to investigate:

  • Recruitment and training of Sheriff’s Deputies
  • Use of force policies, training, and accountability in the Sheriff’s department
  • In-custody deaths of persons in the Sheriff’s system, including in the jails
  • Most specifically, a review of the Sheriff’s suicide protocols, as many in-custody deaths are being (conveniently) attributed to suicide.

Some have wondered why we, the NAACP, are interested in the death of a white man.  As has been said so many times, none of us are free until all of us are free.  The NAACP is a racially diverse organization that is dedicated to securing the civil and human rights of all persons, regardless of their race.  Every death caused by our out-of-control “law enforcement” personnel is of grave concern to the NAACP and its members.

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch

Update: read the response from Attorney General Becerra

Complaint over Violent Beach Arrest

May 7, 2020

Last night, the NAACP Branch filed the following complaint with the City of San Diego CRB (Community Review Board on Police Practices):

I am the President of the NAACP San Diego Branch.  My members and I have seen video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiZzTnXLWHU) of an incident that occurred on May 1st at Ocean Beach.  A woman (according to press reports, her name was Ms ———) who was walking her dog was assaulted by three police officers.  These officers slammed this woman three times, put their knees into her back, and even kicked her dog.

The use of force was excessive.  The officers’ choice of victim, an African-American woman, raises questions of equity.  Was she arrested because of her race?  Was she assaulted because of her race?  Would the officers have found a better way to deal with the situation if Ms ——– had been white?  We have seen over and over again that bias, implicit or explicit, plays a role in the decisionmaking of SDPD officers.  This looks like it may well be another case of the police indulging their bias, sadism and need for control on a defenseless African-American.

We do not have the names of the officers, but the video did capture the number of one of the police vehicles (see photo); 6991.

We would like a full investigation into whether this conduct was in accordance with SDPD policy, if this was considered excessive use of force, if there have been other complaints of bias and/or excessive force lodged against the officers involved, and if those complaints were upheld.  If the conclusion is that all of the officers acted “according to policy,” as CRB conclusions so often are, then we will be demanding a change in SDPD policy and a more empowered and independent CRB.

To start with, we would like to thank the citizen who supplied this video.  We are very grateful to anyone who records the actions of law enforcement, as is the right of any member of the public.

There is a story circulating on social media that this young woman was arrested is that her dog was unleashed outside proper hours.  Evidently unleashed dogs are allowed on this beach, just not at the time she was walking hers.  The story goes on to say that the woman ignored lifeguards who asked her to leash the dog, and she then ignored the police whom the lifeguards called.

The excuse for the violent behavior of the SDPD officers, it is said, was that this young woman had the temerity to try to walk away from the police who had arrested her.  This resulted, the story goes on to say, in:

  • A violent takedown and abuse both of the woman and her dog
  • A citation for resisting arrest
  • A citation for public intoxication

These seem rather severe consequences for walking one’s dog without a leash.

The “public intoxication” that concerns us is that of the SDPD officers — intoxication with their own power over a young black woman.

We have, for hundreds of years, seen white men (and women) in this country use all manner of excuses to capture, abuse, beat and control black men and women.  This has been justified with (pseudo-)religion, (pseudo-)science, and (pseudo-)morality.

We do not believe, had this young woman been white, that things would have happened as they did.  We do not believe the lifeguards would have called the police.  We do not believe the police would have made the arrest.  Having made the arrest, we do not believe the police would have resorted to such violence.  Not on a white woman, who might have been the daughter of the white power establishment in our City and County.

We are not going to accept this kind of lawless behavior from “Law Enforcement.”

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch

Closing the Beckworth Library

May 4, 2020

Council President Gómez
City Administration Building
10th Floor
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Cate
City Administration Building
10th Floor
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Moreno
City Administration Building
10th Floor
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Bry
City Administration Building
10th Floor
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Kersey
City Administration Building
10th Floor
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Sherman
City Administration Building
10th Floor
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Campbell
City Administration Building
10th Floor
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Montgomery
City Administration Building
10th Floor
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Ward
City Administration Building
10th Floor
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101

Re: The Beckworth Library

Dear Members of the San Diego City Council,

There is a proposal to close the Beckworth Library, near the Educational Cultural Complex.  We understand why you might close it, as it is not the busiest of our libraries.  

However, that library serves a community that desperately needs access to information, be it printed or online.  Many families in the communities it serves, including Lincoln Park, Mount Hope, Chollas View, Mountain View, Southcrest and Shelton, are under stress in the best of times, let alone during COVID-19 and its aftermath.  They NEED a library to provide the books Internet access, and quiet workspace that a Library provides.

Like so many facilities in Southeastern San Diego, it is small, sited inconveniently, and lacks many of the latest amenities.  Perhaps THAT is why it is under-used.

We call on you to find a way to keep the Beckworth Library open AND to begin to investigate siting a new library to serve the District 4 and District 9 communities.  Once we have a modern, convenient, upgraded library for our communities, you may have our blessing on closing Beckworth.

Perhaps, if funds are tight, the City could unload one or two of its unprofitable golf courses.  We fail to understand why an additional $15M needs to be spent to renovate these courses, when 2020 revenues were already projected flat and costs up by $1M, before the impact of COVID-19.  We realize that the three courses taken together have eked out a meager profit, but all that profit is from Torrey Pines.  Surely one of the two money-losers could go.  Not only would we stop sending good money after bad, but we would receive a new infusion of property tax revenue that could be used to foster learning and working for community residents.

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch

Discrimination and Racism

See related article in the Washington Post.

May 4, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the best in us, confirming the heroic status of our first responders and making heroes of janitors and grocery store workers. Sadly, due to continued discrimination and racism, we are also seeing the ugly side of America.  Recently, all over the United States mandatory social distancing orders began to be enforced, while some states slowly began to reopen. From mandatory facial coverings to social distancing on beaches and in stores, more Americans are adjusting to a new way of life.  Unfortunately, the same old problems are still with us.

Over this past week, the NAACP San Diego Branch has become greatly concerned about what appears to be racial discrimination by law enforcement in enforcing the social distancing mandate.  In San Diego, we reviewed a video of an African American female aggressively detained by police officers while walking her dog on the beach—while other beach goers with their dogs were allowed to enjoy their day. My own elderly father was accosted for walking alone in a park, while crowds of white protestors were left alone. In Santee, a resident wore a KKK hood for a facial covering to a local store and was allowed to shop. The NAACP San Diego Branch calls on the San Diego Chief of Police and the Santee Chief of Police to investigate both incidents and provide a full report to the community and a procedure moving forward to eliminate racial discrimination and harassment in the enforcement of social distancing.

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch

Fatal Shooting of Detainee by Sheriff’s Deputy

May 4, 2020

We learned with sorrow yesterday that a 36-year-old man was fatally shot by a Sheriff’s Deputy outside the jail in downtown San Diego.  The man had been in the custody of California Park Rangers, who say he had been arrested for “assault with a deadly weapon” on a park employee. 

We all remember last year the passage of AB-392, that raised the standard of lethal force to “when necessary to save human life.” While we will pass no judgment until a thorough investigation has been done, this shooting raises many troubling questions. 

While it might seem at first blush that a man arrested for assault with a deadly weapon would pose a threat to human life, we are unconvinced.

This man had already been in law enforcement custody.  He would have been searched and any weapons he had would have been confiscated.  We may therefore assume he was unarmed.

The sheriff’s deputy was one of two deputies arriving for work, not a detail arranged to receive this man from the Park Rangers.  How then, would they have known that this man was charged with a potentially serious crime?

Perhaps there are good explanations for this.  What is absolutely certain is that this case is one the NAACP San Diego Branch will follow with keen interest.

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch

Please see followup article: Resignation of Deputy is Not Enough